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Business

Return to office will be wobbly, handle with care


Were we unaware of how much it can take out of you to communicate meaningfully with bunches of colleagues in real life, or were our adrenal glands so used to running on caffeinated battery-stretch we’d evolved to soldier on?

Were our adrenal glands so used to running on caffeinated battery-stretch we’d evolved to soldier on?

Were our adrenal glands so used to running on caffeinated battery-stretch we’d evolved to soldier on?

And, who forgot to warn us that spontaneous small-talk skills would be yet another casualty of the blasted pandemic (why so first-day-of-school self-conscious)?

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Why should we go back to the office at all, many are asking, when we’ve shown how reliable and productive we are in comfortable pants – even if at times we’ve wanted to smash the PC in fits of “log out and try logging in again!” pique.

We all acknowledge the oft-quoted downsides of being home 24/7: the lack of corridor conversations that can throw up ideas-gold, the “we are one” work-bonding, the fact you can never escape the housework mountain in front of your face, yet no-one can hear you scream (those within range practise selective deafness).

Working from home means we miss out on spontaneous collaboration with colleagues.

Working from home means we miss out on spontaneous collaboration with colleagues.Credit:iStock

And don’t forget the isolation, which many people discussed as “remote” working’s greatest drawback, especially for those who live alone and, introverted or not, find office contact enriching.

We return to our work tribes changed to an extent that perhaps we do not even realise.

No one is suggesting it can’t be, yet many are averse to being pushed, pulled or dragged back and this means what comes next is guaranteed to bring some wobbles. A recent survey by Swinburne University researchers for the Fair Work Commission found only 5 per cent of workers who were sent home during the pandemic want to return full-time, and last week The Age reported a “tussle” brewing between employers and staff over work arrangements for 2021.

According to the The Adapting to the New Normal: Hybrid Working 2021 survey of 600 workers and 300 employers, released by Pitcher Partners Melbourne, Bastion Reputation Management and Bastion Insights, managers are signalling they believe workers are “slacking off” while staff say they’ve been more productive at home.

Clare Gleghorn, chief executive of Bastion Reputation Management, said both employers and staff felt working from home had been a success, but warned if managers became increasingly distrustful and isolation became more entrenched there was trouble ahead.

We return to our work tribes changed to an extent that perhaps we do not even realise.

We return to our work tribes changed to an extent that perhaps we do not even realise.Credit:iStock

Given the “hybrid” model of some work in the office and some at home is likely to be most widely adopted, and the desire of many workers not (yet) to return, the next few months will involve plenty of compassion.

We return to our work tribes changed to an extent that perhaps we do not even realise. Many of us are more cautious, more wary of others and, particularly for those of us who went into long second lockdown, we are carrying the remnants of that puzzling cognitive fog that cruelled our moods and at times crippled our thinking.

Sure we could work through it, but living through it was hard. Summer and incremental freedom largely seared away the malaise, but the emotional echo rings on. I would be comfortable guessing that many of us are still experiencing bouts of feeling tangibly more vulnerable, a state exacerbated rather than relieved by the rough and tumble of pre-COVID office existence.

Employers would do well to understand that a reluctance to return is less likely motivated by a desire to get away with something (how can you, anyway, if your productivity is easily measured) and more likely fuelled by the memories and marks left over from being confined, uncertain and a little bit afraid.

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It will take more than a few trips to the beach to clear the unsettling residue of 2020, so why not allow people to stay home until they feel less tender.

It’s no wonder the couch/computer/pet and coffee set-up is still so appealing to many, we know going back to hubbub will be a different type of tiring. For best results all round please handle us with care.

Wendy Tuohy is a Sunday Age senior writer. Twitter: @wtuohy

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Local News - Victoria

Swimmers take the plunge at Portsea as major swim events return


Competitive ocean swimmers are back making waves once again, with the sell-out Portsea Swim Classic heralding the return of major Victorian swim events.

Around 2000 competitors hit the water at the Mornington Peninsula on Saturday for the “Classic” 1.5-kilometre event and “Gold” 2.5-kilometre swim.

Victoria’s most famous swimming event, the Lorne Pier to Pub, went virtual in 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic, meaning the Classic is the first mass ocean swim to take place this year.

Dominique Hart heads towards the finishing line at the Portsea Swim Classic.

Dominique Hart heads towards the finishing line at the Portsea Swim Classic.Credit:Darren McNamara

While the most junior competitor taking the plunge on Saturday was just seven years of age, it was truly on for young and old, with 87-year-old swimmer Patrick Galvin receiving a round of applause from the crowd after completing his 1.5-kilometre swim.



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Australian News

Mask restrictions to ease, dancing to return


The mask mandate will end, dancing will return, and visitor and gathering limits will be eased across Greater Brisbane from 1am on Friday, after weeks of tight restrictions.

The move comes just two weeks after the city was plunged into a three-day lockdown in a bid to curb any community transmission of COVID-19 after a hotel quarantine worker tested positive to the highly contagious B117 strain.

Both she and her partner spent a number of days in the community while unknowingly infectious, prompting a “short, sharp” lockdown followed by ten days of tight restrictions before the Hotel Grand Chancellor cluster bottomed out at six cases.

But, with the confirmation on Thursday morning that no other cases had been detected in the community in the last 14 days, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk told Brisbane residents they could “go back to our road map from December”.

She thanked the people of Brisbane, Logan, Redlands, Moreton Bay and Ipswich for their success in stopping the spread of the new strain.

“Brisbane was Australia’s first battleground for this new strain,” she said.

“We have come through together, we have come through it stronger and we’ll continue to do that every single day.”

As of 1am on Friday, masks will no longer be required at gyms and other indoor locations, however the chief health officer said they should still be worn “wherever you can’t social distance.”

Wedding and funeral guest limits will return to 200 people, private gatherings at homes will be capped at 50, and open-air stadiums will return to 100 per cent capacity.

Indoor venues including cafes, restaurants, bars, clubs, places of worship, libraries and art galleries will be able to host one person per two-square-metres, and private gatherings for up to 100 will be allowed in public spaces.

Ticketed venues including cinemas, theatres and live music venues will return to 100 per cent capacity.

And, just in time for the weekend, the dance ban will be lifted at all indoor and outdoor venues, subject to the one-per-two square metre rule.

All hospitality industry businesses must continue to comply with electronic contact tracing requirements.

Ms Palaszczuk said it was unlikely there would be any further easing of social restrictions “until the vaccine.”

Dr Jeannette Young said she wanted Queenslanders, particularly those in Greater Brisbane, to continue to come forward to get tested if they have “any symptoms at all”.

In the last 14 days, 103,549 people in Queensland came forward to get tested. Only 38 cases were detected in that time, all in hotel quarantine.

Queensland recorded just one case of COVID-19 on Thursday, an Emirates flight crew member who has already left the country.

More to come.



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Local News - Victoria

Office workers return, but will the CBD ever be the same?


But others are less sure. The majority of 503 people employed in the city told Roy Morgan – in a poll commissioned by the City of Melbourne in November and December – that they were willing to return to the office, mostly because they missed the routine and their workmates.

But 32 per cent of people would like to work mostly from home and 42 per cent would like to have some regular days at home. Another 18 per cent would like to be able to work remotely when needed.

Prior to COVID-19, only 17 per cent of CBD workers routinely worked from home. Another 26 per cent did so when necessary.

The biggest barrier to getting people back into the office was COVID-19 safety in public (80 per cent of respondents), COVID safety at work (77 per cent) and commuting or parking (77 per cent). Seventy per cent said losing flexible working arrangements was a barrier to returning to their office.

Among those most reluctant to return to their workplaces full-time were people aged 35-49 years with school-aged children.

Management consultant Mark Geels is looking forward to getting back to his desk and seeing his colleagues but expects to continue working from home in some way for the foreseeable future.

“I’ll keep it as flexible as I can. Our workplace very much encourages flexible working and has done so even before the pandemic, but it’s never been as well followed as since the pandemic,” he said.

“I’ll never say never, but I don’t envisage [going to the office] five days a week at least for the next six months.”

He said the pandemic had proven that office workers could be productive at home, but that staff were missing catch-ups and chance encounters with their colleagues.

“Every meeting has to be planned. Rarely are they just spontaneous, and that’s what you really miss out on.”

Melbourne lord mayor Sally Capp has pushed for workers – “a vital part of what makes our city great” – to get back into the CBD to help cafes and bars that rely on office staff.

“Our message to workers returning to the city is that we’ve missed you, welcome back,” Cr Capp said.

Mr Geels said workers benefit from chance encounters with their colleagues.

Mr Geels said workers benefit from chance encounters with their colleagues.Credit:Jason South

Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry acting chief executive Dugald Murray has predicted that staff numbers might not increase beyond 60 per cent of capacity even when restrictions are eased again in late February, subject to health advice.

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Commercial vacancy rates increased to 13.2 per cent in the last quarter of 2020, according to new data from Macquarie, which described it as “the worst year for demand on record”.

There were 68,000 square metres of empty office space in Melbourne in the quarter, compared to 57,000 in Sydney.

Cr Capp said the council could consider converting under-used offices if working arrangements change in the long term, and acknowledged the city would have to adapt.

“This requires a mindset and policy change after years of managing the momentum of a strongly growing economy,” she said.

“There are going to be challenges for our economy with fewer workers in the city for the immediate future. We also don’t know how flexible working arrangements will play out in the medium and long term.”

“Our team will also be studying our residential population and what opportunities there are to convert under-utilised commercial buildings into apartments and creative spaces.”

However, she said Melbourne “can’t be replicated” and events, hospitality and retail need investment to “build on our strengths to entice people to return”.

Professor Buxton believes the emptying out of commercial buildings will be temporary, saying the greater threat to the CBD was the loss of international students and short-term renters in high-rise apartments.

It’s those buildings that could need to be repurposed for new tenants, he said, cautioning it was too soon to say whether this would eventuate.

“We might just have to look around for other ways to fill large numbers of vacant apartments. One option is public housing, for example,” Professor Buxton said.

He said Australia was one of the only countries in the western world to construct high-rise residential apartments that rely on international arrivals, a “risky model” dependent on international relations.

Before the pandemic hit, students comprised 45 per cent of the residential population in central Melbourne at the time of the 2016 census, many of them international students.

About 40,181 people lived in the CBD in 2016, which was expected to grow by an average 4.1 per cent a year, according to forecasts prepared for the City of Melbourne in 2019.

Danni Hunter, Victorian executive director of the Property Council of Australia, agreed there would be challenges for residential developments without international students.

“Everything’s changed, the fundamentals of what makes the property industry tick has really changed, but there’s a lot of opportunities in it,” she said.

Ms Hunter said there would be a period of transition before it became clear which behavioural changes became permanent.

“The property industry is extremely agile and is already responding to these rapid trends as we change floor plates, build in home offices and become ultra-connected across locations.”

Back in the 1990s, the city council and state government transformed the CBD by encouraging residential development under the Postcode 3000 project, which led to empty office buildings being converted into apartments. It brought thousands of residents into the city.

Several candidates in last year’s city council election advocated for again repurposing empty office buildings into social housing or artist hubs.

Mark Feenane, executive officer of the Victorian Public Tenants Association, said that could be a feasible option to address the shortfall in public housing.

“If existing buildings can be repurposed into safe, long-term housing that gives Victorians an opportunity to live with dignity, that would warrant serious consideration.”

COVID-19 rules changing from 11.59pm on Sunday, January 17

-From Monday, private workplaces will be able to increase to 50 per cent staff capacity and the Victorian public service will be able to return to 25 per cent staff capacity at each site.

-Masks will no longer be required in most workplaces. They will only be mandatory on all domestic flights, at airports, in hospitals, on public transport, in commercial passenger vehicles, at supermarkets and shopping centres.

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Business

Major employers delay return to office until February


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In NSW, the public health order requiring companies to allow employees to work from home no longer applies, but social distancing requirements mean offices can only be half-full at any given time.

The Commonwealth Bank, which is the nation’s biggest bank employing more than 40,000 people, said it is going to keep the hybrid model – staff split between office and remote working – through to February.

“We continue to monitor the situation and are currently looking to a hybrid return for many of our people in February, pending no new health concerns or restrictions are advised by the Victorian or NSW governments,” a CBA spokesman said.

“Flexibility and remote working will be important in helping us manage building occupancy rates to ensure we comply with physical distancing requirements.”

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Telstra is also taking a cautious approach, and a spokesman said Melbourne staff were being encouraged to work from home until the end of January.

The telco said it would continue to enable flexible work conditions after restrictions are eased after staff said they “no longer want to spend Monday to Friday in a traditional office environment”.

“As things return to normal, many see themselves coming into the office up to two days a week to collaborate, see customers, and connect with their team. But there’s a wide range of views on this, with some keen to come back into the office full-time and others not at all,” the spokesman said.

Melbourne-headquartered National Australia Bank updated its policy on Friday to reflect the Victorian government’s new rules and will start to bring Melbourne employees back to the office next week.

“Our priority continues to be the safety of our colleagues, customers and the community, and any future plans will be in line with government advice and protocols.”

Travel between Sydney and Melbourne remains banned, and one major bank will have to change plans for a board meeting that was scheduled to take place in Victoria in early February.

Like Telstra, other employers also say they’ve adapted well to the remote working model and will cut down on corporate travel and in-person meetings regardless of the health advice.

Australia’s second-largest health insurer, Medibank, said the Sydney office would be reopened “shortly”, but a phased return of Melbourne offices would be delayed until February. Medibank people and culture executive Kylie Bishop said flexible working conditions would be adopted permanently in both cities.

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“Both these sites will reopen subject to government advice at the time and with a COVIDSafe plan in place,” she said. “Medibank is moving to a new way of working in 2021, with the type of work to determine the setting, whether that be in the office, at home or another location.”

Officeworks and Bunnings, subsidiaries of retail conglomerate Wesfarmers, are not encouraging office staff to return to their workplace until February.

Australian tech giant Atlassian, which is based in Sydney, will keep working remotely.

The country’s third-largest bank, Westpac, declined to comment on border politics, with chief executive Peter King on leave, but a spokesman said the bank would continue to review the latest guidance for its city offices and branch network.

“Corporate office employees working during this time are asked to work from home, unless it is business critical to be in the workplace.

“We plan to progressively increase the number of people working in our corporate offices when it is safe to do so, and are monitoring the current situation closely,” the spokesman said.

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Local News - Victoria

Up to 50% of city workers to return to office from Monday, mask rules relaxed


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“To get to this eight days in a row of zero is no small thing and it’s a credit to all of our public health team and a credit to all Victorians who play their part in doing so,” he said.

However, Mr Andrews predicted that many Victorians would continue to work from home, saying flexible working arrangements were no longer “a concept”, but “the lived experience for many people over a long year”.

“They’re gonna want much more flexible working arrangements,” he said.

“They can do the job from home for some part of the week and they’re going to want to do that.

“I’ve had nothing but positive feedback from many, many very big employers about productivity not really being impacted, [and] in fact, in many cases, actually being enhanced by people working in a much more flexible way.”

The return-to-work schedule was pushed back last Wednesday, when there were 28 active cases of COVID-19, and a man with no apparent link to the Black Rock cluster was diagnosed with the virus.

From Monday, up to half of all private sector workers can begin working from their desks again, while Victoria’s public service, the city’s largest employer, can bring back up to a quarter of staff.

Mr Andrews said the government had capped the return of public servants at a lower setting to give the private sector more capacity to bring workers back.

The news will be welcomed by many thousands of Victorians who have been working from makeshift home offices since March.

However, the Victorian Chamber of Commerce expects the return to be a slow, drawn-out process and major employers, including NAB, Westpac and ANZ, have said their staff will return in stages, mostly from next month.

As The Age revealed on Wednesday, a Fair Work Commission survey found that only 5 per cent of workers want to return to the office full-time.

The survey of 322 users of the social media site LinkedIn by researchers at Swinburne University found that 35 per cent of participants would prefer to work from home every day, and a majority would like to split their time between home and office.

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One of the report’s authors, John Hopkins, said most employers were developing plans to allow flexible work arrangements, but, in some cases, they were insisting workers return to the office full-time.

Industrial lawyers have warned workers could be sacked if they refuse a request from their employer to return to the office once their workplace is deemed safe and the Victorian government relaxes restrictions on attendance.

Deputy Chief Health Officer Allen Cheng said authorities were “relatively confident” there was no community transmission in Victoria, but urged people to remain vigilant.

“What we’d like to do is encourage employers to be flexible to allow staggered start times,” he said. “Employers hopefully understand the need to be flexible and to make sure that not everyone’s going into the building at the same time, but obviously it will be different for different employers.”

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Pre-COVID, almost half the estimated 1 million people who travelled into the CBD every day did so for work, leaving CBD businesses heavily reliant on office workers for financial survival.

At the 2016 census there were 37,341 residents of the CBD, almost half (45 per cent) of whom were students.

But since Australia shut its borders in March, applications by foreign citizens to study in Australia have collapsed by more than 80 per cent. The number of international students is expected to be half its pre-pandemic total by mid 2021.

Melbourne lord mayor Sally Capp said having office workers return to the CBD would be a lifeline for city retail and hospitality businesses.

Mr Andrews said: “This will be a massive boost not only for the office workplaces in the heart of Melbourne, but the cafes, restaurants, bars and shops that rely on their business – it will be fantastic to see the city coming alive again.”

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Local News - Victoria

Workers have no right to refuse call to return to office, say lawyers


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The survey of 322 users of the social media site LinkedIn by researchers at Swinburne University found that 35 per cent of participants would prefer to work from home every day and a majority would like to split their time between home and office.

One of the report’s authors, John Hopkins, said most employers were developing plans to allow flexible work arrangements but in some cases, they were insisting workers return to the office full-time.

Slater and Gordon principal lawyer Andrew Rich said whether workers had legal recourse to refuse came down to whether the direction from their employers was reasonable.

“If you have a contract of employment [and] it was understood that you’d work from the office … and now it’s been deemed safe for you to return [and] there has been measures put in place within the workplace so to comply with government guidelines, then, in general, people will need to comply with that direction,” he said.

There are some circumstances under the Fair Work Act where workers have the right to make a request for flexible working arrangements, including working from home, and employers must consider them.

These include if the workplace isn’t following a COVID-safe plan, having a medical condition that makes a worker more susceptible to respiratory infection, needing to care for a family member or being over the age of 55.

However, employers can refuse these requests.

Maurice Blackburn senior associate Patrick Turner said employers had a duty of care to provide a safe workplace and workers concerned about whether a direction to return to the office was reasonable should first contact their union or a lawyer.

“The consequences for refusing a reasonable and lawful direction are potentially serious,” he said, adding that they included warnings and dismissal.

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Mr Rich said there was more capacity for workers without extenuating circumstances to negotiate working from home than before the pandemic due to a change in perspective from employers.

Mr Rich said whether the current legislation needed more teeth would depend on how employers responded to the situation.

Mr Turner said there was room for reform to better protect workers’ rights, ensure safe workplaces and preserve work life balance in a COVID-normal world.

The survey for the Fair Work Commission report, released in November, was conducted in May after the first wave of the pandemic forced lockdowns across the country.

Dr Hopkins, a Swinburne University lecturer and founder of WorkFlex, said he suspected the amount of people preferring to work from home was likely to have increased even more since then as they adapted to the situation.

He said many respondents described feeling mixed emotions about returning to the office.

“People will probably be looking forward to seeing their colleagues again, but probably not as keen [to be] getting on a packed train again,” he said.

“Obviously, the pandemic hasn’t finished. There’s still a nervousness around public transport and mixing with people, particularly in areas where you can’t socially distance.”

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Dr Hopkins said people looking forward to returning to the office needed to be aware that reduced numbers might mean a change in atmosphere or culture.

“The office is going to feel different when people do return,” he said.

Office workers Teri Tran and Naomi Lions returned to work at a large corporate Melbourne CBD office for the first time since March on Tuesday.

The pair, who will be splitting their time between the office and home, want the flexibility to do both.

“You have to wear [office] clothes again, you have to do things that you didn’t have to do at home, but it’s been a nice change,” Ms Lions said.

Ms Tran said a negative to returning was a one-hour commute.

Teri Tran says her one-hour commute is one of the downsides of returning to the office.

Teri Tran says her one-hour commute is one of the downsides of returning to the office.Credit:Joe Armao

The pair said they preferred collaborating face-to-face than trying to speak to colleagues via the internet.

They also said it was easier to potentially work overtime from home and that having to leave and catch a train home was a good way to mark the end of their working day.

“You take your breaks [at work] … instead of just sitting in front of a computer all the time. You can kind of forget when you’re at home to do those kind of things,” she said.

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Australian News

Toyota to return $18 million in Jobkeeper payments after huge car sales


In a surprising windfall for the Australian government, Toyota has made moves to hand back more than $18 million worth of JobKeeper payments.

The car manufacturer had qualified for JobKeeper in mid 2020 when its revenue fell more than 50 per cent as the COVID-19 pandemic hit resulting in lockdowns and restrictions across the nation.

But Australia’s number one car brand bounced back from financial uncertainty with more than 66,000 vehicles sold in the fourth quarter, an increase of almost 30 per cent compared to the same period in 2019.

Toyota president and CEO, Matthew Callachor, said the company approached the Australian Taxation Office in December to arrange the JobKeeper repayment.

“Like most businesses, Toyota faced an extremely uncertain future when the COVID-19 health crisis developed into an economic crisis that even led to dealerships closing for extended periods in Victoria and Tasmania,” he said.

“We claimed JobKeeper payments to help support the job security of almost 1,400 Toyota employees around Australia.”

RELATED: Treasurer’s huge Jobkeeper blow

RELATED: Electric power for Aussie icon

But a plan to overcome the challenges and reignite business worked, Mr Callachor added, with Aussies keen to buy comfortable cars for local holidays.

With almost a quarter of a million cars sold in 2020, Toyota was the best-selling brand for the 18th consecutive year, said the company.

Total sales in 2020 added up to almost 204,801 vehicles, which were 975 short of the previous year.

“In the end, we were very fortunate to weather the storm better than most, so our management and board decided that returning JobKeeper payments was the right thing to do as a responsible corporate citizen,” Mr Callachor said.



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Business

Shaver Shop sales soar as office trims return


“COVID came along, barbers and hairdressers started to close, and people started to think ‘hang on a second, how do I get this look that I want’?” he said.

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“So they started doing it themselves, which lent itself to us getting a bit of a kicker.”

Shaver Shop’s sales rallied all throughout 2020, which Mr Fox has attributed in part to the growth and cultivation of many ‘lockdown beards’, however, the executive expects demand for his products to stay strong even as workers settle back into office life.

“At the moment, everyone’s going towards beards and beard care, which maybe is because of lockdown where people have let their hair grow a bit longer than normal,” he said.

“Now, when COVID-19 ends … and everyone starts going back to the office, maybe beard trimmers will soften but electric shavers, and being clean-shaven, will grow.”

“We benefit no matter how the pendulum swings.”

Shaver Shop expects first-half profit to grow by as much as 85 per cent.

Shaver Shop expects first-half profit to grow by as much as 85 per cent. Credit:Jenny Evans

Shaver Shop is far from the only retailer to benefit from the pandemic’s side effects, with major players such as JB Hi-Fi, Kogan, Wesfarmers and Premier Investments all seeing higher sales and massive online growth in recent months.

Recent retail figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed a record 13.3 per cent rise in retail sales for November, spurred on by the Black Friday sales period.

Mr Fox said while Shaver Shop had participated in the sales event the company had taken a more moderate approach, with less aggressive discounting on best-selling items. This helped the business’ gross profits increase 2 per cent for the period.

Shares in Shaver Shop have risen over 50 per cent in the past year, and jumped as much as 18 per cent on Monday to hit a new all-time high of $1.25 before easing to be up 11 per cent mid-afternoon.

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WikiLeaks founder’s lawyers deny he can return to Australia


Lawyers for Julian Assange have rejected Scott Morrison’s claim he can simply return to Australia if a final legal attempt to extradite him on espionage charges fails, warning the United States could promptly launch new legal proceedings here.

There are fears the US could simply reopen attempts to extradite Mr Assange from Australia if he ever travelled home to the country where he was born and that would leave him again facing charges that carry a maximum penalty of up to 175 years in jail.

Australian officials also confirmed to news.com.au that there was nothing in the US extradition treaty to stop the US from extraditing him as soon as he sets foot in Australia.

The long running legal saga relates to the WikiLeaks founder’s involvement 10 years ago in the 2010 publication of secret diplomatic cables and files on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq including a US military video showing an Apache attack helicopter killing civilians.

A British court ruled this week that Mr Assange will not be extradited to the US after a judge found his mental health was so fragile he was likely to kill himself if he is sent overseas to face espionage charges.

But the United States immediately confirmed they will appeal this decision, in a last-ditch attempt to force Mr Assange to face the US justice system.

RELATED: Grim reason for Julian Assange decision

Prime Minister Scott Morrison claimed on Tuesday that the Australian could simply return home “like any other Australian” if that US appeal over the decision overnight fails.

“Well, the justice system is making its way and we’re not a party to that,’’ Mr Morrison said.

“And like any Australian, they’re offered consular support and should, you know, if the appeal fails, obviously he would be able to return to Australia like any other Australian. So that consular support continues to be offered and that’s the situation as we understand it right now.”

But lawyers for Mr Assange told news.com.au that Australia should push for the US to drop the case entirely.

“It is not enough for the Prime Minister to simply say he is free to come home if he wins the appeal,’’ barrister Jennifer Robinson said.

“The Australian government should express concern about Mr Assange’s wellbeing in light of the judge’s findings about his medical condition and support our bail application. The Australian government should also be making representations to the US to close this case down altogether, given the judge’s ruling on his health and the grave freedom of speech implications, to ensure Mr Assange can safely return home.”

The existing judgment is a hollow victory for free speech advocates, with Judge Vanessa Baraitser effectively upholding all of the US arguments that Mr Assange would secure a fair trial in the US.

RELATED: US plots to kidnap, poison Assange

His legal team has also confirmed they are seeking bail so the Australian can be reunited with his young family while that legal appeal is heard.

“We welcome this important decision from the UK court to bar Mr Assange’s extradition to the US and that the judge has agreed with our arguments that his extradition would be oppressive,’’ Ms Robinson told news.com.au.

“However, it is not over yet: the US government has indicated they will appeal. We are now seeking bail for Mr Assange, pending any appeal, so that he can finally be reunited with his young family, have time to recover from this decade-long ordeal and the harsh prison conditions he has faced, and be protected from the COVID outbreak in his prison.”

He will remain at London’s Belmarsh prison until Wednesday, when the application for him to be released on bail until the appeal is heard will be heard.

In September, a British Court heard Assange was preparing to take his own life, in expert evidence provided by a leading psychiatrist.

“He’s made various plans and undergone various preparations,” Professor Michael Kopelman told a UK court, revealing the 49-year-old had confessed his plans to a Catholic priest, written a will and drafted farewell letters to friends and family.

“Various preparations are in place,” the King’s College Emeritus Professor said, adding that Assange’s ideations could be triggered by the “imminence of extradition and or an actual extradition.”

Labor’s legal affairs spokesman Mark Dreyfus said the case should be dropped and had dragged on for long enough.

“Given his ill health it is now time for this long drawn out case against Julian Assange to be brought to an end,’’ he said.

“While the US has the right to appeal the court’s decision, we call on the Morrison Government to do what it can to draw a line under this matter and encourage the US Government to bring this matter to a close.”



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